Ex-S. Korean leaders freed after pardons are approved Chun, Roh are symbols of military dictatorship

December 22, 1997|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

SEOUL, South Korea -- Imprisoned former Presidents Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae Woo were freed this morning after the Cabinet approved a pardon issued by President Kim Young Sam.

The decision to release Chun and Roh, who have been imprisoned since 1995 for mutiny, treason and bribery, was reached jointly by Kim and his newly elected successor, veteran opposition leader Kim Dae Jung, at a meeting Saturday over lunch at the presidential Blue House.

"I deeply apologize to the people for the anxiety and concern I and my family caused, and I thank the people for their warm encouragement and love shown to me during the past two years," Chun, dressed in a suit and overcoat, said at the gate of Anyang Detention Center after his release.

Roh, upon his release from Seoul Detention Center, said: "I hope the president-elect will lead the people to rebuild our economy and to eliminate regional and class disputes, and I am sure he will succeed in this."

Chun, 66, and Roh, 65, are potent symbols of the military dictatorships that for nearly three decades brutally crushed dissent in South Korea. The two Kims were the top dissident leaders of the pro-democracy fight against military rule.

Even a superficial reconciliation among the four men could do much to mend this nation's bitter emotional wounds and regional antagonisms.

Chun and Roh will not be allowed to recover ill-gotten wealth they accumulated during their presidencies, but they will have their civil rights restored, the government said.

The two ex-presidents will have the legal right to engage in political activities and to receive security protection at taxpayer expense. They will not, however, receive other ex-presidential perks such as secretarial service. Whether they get their presidential pensions will be decided by the courts, according to Korean media reports.

Chun was president from 1980 to 1988, while Roh held office from 1988 to 1993, when he was succeeded by Kim Young Sam.

While the pardons have occasioned some bitter criticism, they appear to be widely accepted through much of South Korean society.

"For the goal of national harmony, we can understand and even welcome their being pardoned for their crimes," said Park Jung Ki, whose college-sophomore son, Park Jong Chul, was tortured to death while under police interrogation on Jan. 14, 1987. That case, in which five police officers were convicted, triggered a months-long wave of increasingly large protests that forced Chun to accept a more democratic constitution later that year.

Restoration of the former presidents' civil rights, however, "is absurd, and much too soon," Park added.

"We at the association are enraged that the two will have their rights restored," said Park, who is an official of the Democratic Family Association, a group of people who lost relatives in the democracy struggle of the 1970s and 1980s.

By supporting the pardons, Kim Dae Jung -- who is scheduled to formally take office Feb. 25 -- seems sure to lessen antagonism toward his presidency from citizens of the country's southeastern Kyongsang region, the political home base for both Chun and Roh, where the two former presidents are still well-respected.

Chun and Roh were convicted for their roles in a 1979 mutiny and a 1980 massacre and coup, as well as for amassing huge slush funds while in office. Chun was condemned to death, but that sentence was reduced on appeal to life imprisonment. Roh's original 22-year sentence was reduced to 17 years.

Pub Date: 12/22/97

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